BY Sharon Sitati
Violence against children is a global problem that affects one billion children aged 2-17. This violence can come in different forms, including physical, emotional/psychological, sexual, and neglect. Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to violence, with 16% of girls in Kenya experiencing violence before the age of 18. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the issue.
Any behaviour that harms children can be classified as violence. This includes physical violence, such as hitting or punching, psychological abuse, such as bullying or threats, sexual violence, and neglect. Violence can cause physical injury, mental health issues, fear, shame, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Children who have experienced violence may display changes in behaviour, such as becoming withdrawn or aggressive and may struggle academically. It is important for parents, teachers, and caregivers to be able to identify signs of abuse and take appropriate action. It is also important to educate children on internet safety, as they are at risk of facing online violence.
Preventing violence against children requires a coordinated effort from the government, private, public, civil societies, and the whole community. Laws and policies need to be reinforced to protect children, and family support and parenting skills need to be strengthened. Economic strengthening, response and support services, coordination, and challenging community norms and values can all contribute to reducing violence.
In Kenya, coordinated efforts have resulted in a reduction of childhood sexual violence by half for females and two-thirds for males since 2010. However, more work needs to be done to create a safer world for all children. The National Prevention and Response Plan on Violence against Children 2019-2023 plan is set to be released in July 2023, and until then, efforts to prevent violence against children should continue to be strengthened.